Standing Up for Racial Justice
It is no secret that this country was built on white supremacy and racial oppression. The murders over the past few weeks of unarmed African Americans is not new. It started 400 years ago with the arrival of the first slave ships in Port Comfort, Virginia, took on a new shape through the Jim Crow era, and persists to this day. And that violence is particularly prevalent in every aspect of the criminal justice system – from arrest to incarceration and beyond.
Like many of you, we are still feeling the shock, horror and anguish as the image of George Floyd’s murder plays over and over in our minds. It’s not just the white officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck that is so troubling; it is also the indifference of the other officers. And while we are thankful that the Minnesota Attorney General increased charges against the primary offender and charged the other officers that did nothing to intervene, this is only the first step. And it provides only a small window into the institutionalized racism that is inherent in so many aspects of our society to this day.
One thing that is different today is that we have cell phones so people are bearing witness to the violence that has been a reality for so many for far too long. It is not new. We just finally have a witness to the brutality and violence that African Americans and other people of color have suffered for generations.
At Pioneer, we join with other community leaders, impacted individuals and allies to ask that no one continues to be silent to these atrocities. We ask white people to educate themselves and truly examine their privilege – and to commit to doing their part to drive change.
We also ask for long-term commitment to undoing the many injustices that continue to persist in our country. In our very own backyard, Manuel Ellis died in police custody on March 3rd. This cannot be a story that disappears in a couple of weeks when the news cycle turns. It must be a catalyst for true, meaningful change. Otherwise, people of color in this state and country will be in the same position as before: secretly victimized and oppressed by every aspect of the criminal justice system.
What You Can Do
To start, we can all raise our level of education about the experiences of African Americans in the United States. Many of us were not taught about slavery, segregation, forced migration and other types of abuses in school – but these are a part of our nation’s history. A great starting point is the New York Times “1619 Project”: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/magazine/1619-intro.html.
We can also have real conversations with a person of color and ask them about their perspectives - and really listen. Some guidelines for talking about race are here: https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race.
One of the most powerful tools we have available to instill change is to vote. Even if you’ve been incarcerated, you have the right to vote in this state. Once out from under the authority of the Department of Corrections, including community supervision, or as soon as you are released from federal prison, your right is restored. Register to vote here: https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/register.aspx.
Join us in our fight to end racist and discriminatory practices in housing that restrict people who have been involved in the justice system from safe, stable housing. Contact your legislators to demand change now. You can find your legislator here: https://app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/.
We must ALL take a stand.
Randy Wilcox, Chair Karen Lee, CEO
Board of Directors Pioneer Human Services